Excerpt: 'The Truth About Getting Sick in America' by Dr. Timothy Johnson


During this past decade at ABC News, I began to realize that it was just as important for me to report and talk about health care problems as about new medical developments. Lack of health insurance can be just as deadly as lack of antibiotics, as it is often the cause of delay in getting good medical care.

I also began to realize that most Americans (myself included) had no idea how costly and complicated our health care had become, and how often politicians used rhetoric that was either deliberately misleading or downright false. So I decided that I had to start talking and writing about health care in the same way I have reported on medical discoveries all these years: with honesty and using terms that people could understand. And, quite frankly, I am also motivated to do this on behalf of my children and grandchildren, because they are going to face disaster if we don't fix the current problems with American health care.

That's why I have spent increasing amounts of my professional time studying health care in America. And I would like to share with you the most important insights I have gained. Here is an overview.


First, I will explore the exploding costs of American health care and whether or not we get full value for the money we spend. In this chapter, and throughout the book, I will try to pinpoint the factors that have driven up U.S. health care costs higher and faster than in other developed countries.


What's the biggest obstacle to health care reform in this country? One of them is certainly our unrealistic expectations as to what our health care can and should do. To put it bluntly, most of us want a gourmet platter of care and services at a blue-plate-special price. And, all too often, we expect top-notch results without any personal effort to improve what we can about our health through such proven techniques as regular exercise or improved nutrition.

I'll illustrate how those expectations translate into the current gridlock in Congress, and why our politicians don't dare limit care and/or increase costs for the voters who elect them.

This chapter will also introduce the big players— hospitals, doctors, insurers, lawyers, drug and medical device companies, and the media— who create and contribute to the reform traffic jam. Also, I'll begin to explore the devastating effects of the growing lack of primary care in our country.


According to many experts, any truly effective control of costs and improvement in quality in American health care would require more government regulation. But in the current political environment, which plays off understandable fears about "big government" in general and "government takeover" of health care in particular, that idea seems less and less palatable. Nevertheless, I will describe an industry in this country that might serve as a model for a sensible partnership between government and private industry. I will also discuss how the federal government of another major developed country plays an essential role in health care, and how we might learn from that country.


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